Category Archives: Museum 101

Museum 101: “A” is (still) for Accession

Way, way back at the beginning of this blog, we covered the process of accessioning, or bringing objects into the museum’s collection. Recently, while doing some research for ongoing accessioning here at the museum, we came across our humble little blog post on the second page of a Google search for “museum accession.” This shows us two things: 1. That we’re awesome, and 2. That museums do a poor job talking about how museums function. To this end, we’ve decided to revisit the accessioning because the task is never done.

We’re always accessioning things here at the Campbell House, whether they are objects returned to the house (as with these goblets that were the subject of our first post about accessioning) or they are objects related to our mission, such as the items from our recent Lucas Place exhibit. Sometimes, we also find that we have objects in our collection that, for one reason or another, we overlooked. That’s what we did recently with our lamp globes.

Gravity+Globe=Bad News

Gravity+Globe=Bad News. This globe was broken more than 25 years ago. 

Why were the globes never accessioned? Well, it’s probably because the lamps and gasoliers were. We simply assumed that would suffice. However, as we noted with the chimney pots, objects within the museum tend to move around a lot. Glass and gravity do not play well together either, with the result that they sometimes break. Since the globes can move around separately (and have), and since many of them are the Campbell’s originals and quite valuable in their own right, we’ve chosen to start accessioning each and every one (there are more than 100!).

To accession a globe, first we need to assign it an accession number. This number has three elements: first the year (2015), then the month (12), then a sequential number based on how many objects we’ve already accessioned that month (say, 3). That makes this globe 2015.12.3. This number has to be written on the object, or we could lose track of it. However, we can’t just write on the globe with a Sharpie, because they don’t make a museum-quality pen. We also have to protect the globe.

First, we dab on a layer of a durable, non-yellowing and quite smelly resin called B-72. After half an hour of drying, we can use a special acid-free archival pen to write the number down (chicken scratch handwriting is helpful), then we cover it with another layer of B-72.

Now we need to plug the object into our database. We use a program called PastPerfect, which is, well, perfect for small museums. PastPerfect lets us keep track of our objects, and provides an organized (and searchable!) way to write down everything we know about the object. We can describe its physical attributes, it size, its condition, where it came from, its history, who gave it to us, how much it cost, and so on. We also take a photo of the object, mark down its location, and backup all our data, because we really don’t want to have to do all this again. PastPerfect also puts this information online for us, which is what you see when you search the collections.

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Accessioning an object can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, depending on how important the object is, how much we know about it, and if we need to let two layers of B-72 dry. Once we’ve done this and put the object into the museum, we’re all done! Except for the cleaning, the rearranging, the annual “eyeball” inventory,  the donation forms…

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Guest Blog: Writing the Book on Campbell House

This week we’re handing the reins over to guest blogger Dylan McCartney, a Graduate Research Assistant working with us from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Take it away, Dylan!

When I arrived at the Campbell House in August, I knew very little about Robert Campbell, Virginia Campbell, or St. Louis. I didn’t even call St. Louis home. As a graduate student in the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Museum Studies program, the Campbell House is where I will complete a two-year assistantship. And so, since I knew nothing about the Campbells, I was naturally asked to write up the definitive document about them.

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Graduate Research Assistant Dylan from the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Specifically, it is a new, updated Docent Guidebook. If a docent leads visitors through the house on tours and relates the story of the family and house, then the Docent Guidebook does the same for docents. It is not a script, because the thing that makes a tour of the Campbell House great is that every docent builds their own tour. Instead, the guidebook provides a massive amount of information, too much to possibly fit on a single tour. The thing our docents do best is to internalize the information, relate the most important points, the things they find interesting, and the things the guest finds interesting.

To write the Docent Guidebook, I have spent the better part of five or so months diving deep into the Campbell House archives. I’ve read letters by the Campbells, poured through their receipt books, hunted down newspapers, and worked with the Campbell House Museum’s researcher, Tom Gronski. I researched the objects, the rooms, and even the history of the Museum itself. And, of course, I chatted with the docents, to see what they wanted out of a new guidebook.

touring visitors

Campbell House Docent Tom Keay leads a tour in the Master Bedroom

A new guidebook was needed because a lot of things had changed since the old one. For instance, when the old one was written, the collections hadn’t even been returned to the house after our major restoration was finished! We’re also learning more and more about the Campbells every day. Before this past summer, we didn’t know about a special cabinet in the Butler’s Pantry hallway. We only recently discovered the names of the Campbell House’s architects. And, until a couple of years ago, we weren’t even sure if the Campbells were slaveowners.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: Dylan's pride and joy and the product of many many hours of hard work and research.

The new edition of the Campbell House Museum Docent Guidebook: the product of many hours of research and hard work by Dylan!

A new Docent Guidebook also allowed us to correct any myths that have arisen over the years. As with anything dependent upon oral discourse, a comment made twenty years ago by one person can slowly morph into accepted fact. For instance, many visitors have been informed that Virginia Campbell spent $40,000 on the furniture in 1855. In truth, it’s impossible to tell from our archives the exact amount spent, although it is in the tens of thousands. It is also clear that Robert was buying furniture right there with her. The irony of these myths is that it obscures a wonderful story: that Robert and Virginia purchased their furniture half a continent away and shipped it all via train and boat to St. Louis. Robert was even purchasing carpeting and draperies from St. Louis by sending his brother Hugh the dimensions of the rooms!

The result of all this work is 120 pages of thoroughly sourced information about the Campbells, St. Louis, the house, and nearly anything else that we could think of. This document will serve as the go-to source for new docents, interns, researchers, and anyone else looking for a broad yet detailed summary of the Campbell’s story. So if you thought our docents were already great, come take another tour to see how we’ve managed to get even better!

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Our Fellow Campbell House(s)

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Home Sweet Home, CHM in STL.

The Campbell House Museum in St. Louis, Missouri is, as you probably already know, a pretty incredible place.  Built in 1851 and the home of fur trader and entrepreneur Robert Campbell and his family from 1854 to 1938, the house contains a nearly complete collection of the Campbells’ original furnishings and has been painstakingly restored over the past decade to reach its current state as one of the best-restored 19th Century buildings in America.  But did you know we aren’t alone?  We share the name “Campbell House Museum” with two other institutions in North America, one older than CHM St. Louis and one newer.  Though our stories are quite a bit different from one another, they’re all pretty darn interesting.
Read on to find out more…


 

Campbell House Museum (1898)
Spokane, Washington

CH with chairs

CHM Spokane, ca. 1898.

We first look up to Spokane, Washington, the grounds of the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture (MAC), and the home of mining magnate Amasa B. Campbell, his wife Grace and daughter Helen.  Campbell made his fortune in mining, beginning with a risky investment of $25,000 in an Idaho gem mine.  That bet paid off and, after moving his mining operations from Idaho to Spokane in 1898, Campbell built a house to match his bank account.  Built in an English Tudor Revival style, the Campbell House Museum in Spokane describes itself as follows:

“The first floor interior, on two levels, provides a sense of drama. To the right of the dark wood-paneled entry hall is a light, gilded French reception room where Grace Campbell received her visitors. To the left, the library’s dark wooden beams and inglenook fireplace provide a cozy atmosphere for informal evenings at home as well

Amasa Campbell and daughter Helen.

Amasa Campbell and daughter Helen.

as formal events. Four steps lead to a large dining room with a fireplace surrounded by blue and white Dutch tiles. A deep veranda around the back of the house affords a view of the Spokane River below. Other features include a den, decorated in the popular Middle Eastern style, well-planned service areas, and four bedrooms upstairs.”

Following her mother’s death in 1924, Helen Campbell donated the house and its grounds to the East Washington Historical Society which used the building as a space for special exhibitions and community events.  After the construction of the MAC, Campbell House Spokane underwent a 2001 restoration that has brought it back to its original beauty.  For more information on the home of Amasa Campbell and the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture, click the image below or check them out on Facebook.

CHM Spokane

CHM Spokane in the present day. Click to visit their website!


Campbell House Museum (1822)

Toronto, Canada

CHM Toronto in the late 1800s, at that point serving as home to the "Capewell Horse Nail Co."

CHM Toronto in the late 1800s, at that point serving as home to the “Capewell Horse Nail Co.”

Now we’ll head even farther north, to our Canadian friends at the Campbell House Museum of Toronto, originally home to Upper Canada Chief Justice Sir William Campbell and his wife Hannah.  The stately home was built in 1822 and today stands as one of the few remaining structures of the Georgian Palladian style left standing in Canada.  William Campbell is remembered for his important role in presiding over the trial of rioters who destroyed William Lyon Mackenzie’s printing press, a significant early test for freedom of the press in Canada.  The story of the “Types Riot” is quite a read, click here to learn more about it.  The house served as the Campbell Family home until the death of Hannah Campbell in 1844, at which point the house and its contents were auctioned off (Sound familiar? The same thing happened here at CHM St. Louis in 1941 after the death of Hazlett Campbell).  The building then served as a private home, office space and eventually was converted to a factory.

CHM Toronto in the midst of its move in 1972.

CHM Toronto in the midst of its move in 1972.

This is where things get neat – facing demolition in 1972 at its original location, a group of community-minded and historically-interested lawyers got together and paid to MOVE THE WHOLE HOUSE just over 5,000 feet down the street to its current location in downtown Toronto.  Click here to read about that move and see some pretty nifty pictures.  It’s not every day a Georgian mansion goes cruising down Main Street.

Today the Campbell House Museum in Toronto sits safely in its new location, serving both as an early 19th century Toronto history museum as well as a community and event space “to discuss, to create, to perform, and to socialize, giving life to the words Freedom of Expression” and continuing the legacy of Sir William Campbell.  For more information on CHM Toronto, click the image below to visit their website or check them out on Facebook.

Campbell House Toronto. in the present day.  Click to visit their website!

Campbell House Toronto in the present day. Click to visit their website!

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